Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tipping the Velvet” as Want to Read:
Tipping the Velvet
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Tipping the Velvet

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  37,778 Ratings  ·  1,679 Reviews
The heroine of Sarah Waters's audacious first novel knows her destiny, and seems content with it. Her place is in her father's seaside restaurant, shucking shellfish and stirring soup, singing all the while. "Although I didn't long believe the story told to me by Mother - that they had found me as a baby in an oyster-shell, and a greedy customer had almost eaten me for lun ...more
Paperback, 472 pages
Published October 3rd 2002 by Virago (first published February 5th 1998)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Tipping the Velvet, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Arukiyomi Well, that depends on how you define "historical." This is emphatically not a historical description of lesbian life in Victorian Britain. In fact, I…moreWell, that depends on how you define "historical." This is emphatically not a historical description of lesbian life in Victorian Britain. In fact, I think it's probably embellished that a great deal. It's very much focussed on sexual longing and its physical expression. Whatever romance there is (and there's precious little with many of the relationships Nancy ends up having) is definitely secondary to sex.(less)
Wormwood by Isabella KrugerMoonsong by L.J. SmithThe Strange Power by L.J. SmithHourglass by Claudia GrayBeautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
Horrible Covers
62nd out of 203 books — 228 voters
The Book Thief by Markus ZusakGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettA Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Recommended Historical Fiction
223rd out of 2,236 books — 2,211 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
La Petite Américaine
It's not often that I like a book, so listen up and listen well.

If someone had given me the bare bones outline of Tipping the Velvet and suggest I read it, I'd have kindly told them to piss off. I have a job, a kid to raise, and an already low tolerance for contemporary fiction. A book about cross-dressing lesbians in Victorian England wouldn't spark enough interest in me to get past the title page.

Silly me. Good thing I thought that "tipping the velvet" was a reference to the theater (hint: it'
Dec 30, 2010 Tatiana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people curious about this sort of thing
Recommended to Tatiana by: 1001 Must Read list
Shelves: historical, 1001, 2010
As seen on The Readventurer

Well, I definitely have never read anything like this before. I dare you to read this book's synopsis and not get curious at least a little bit. The moment I set my eyes on a short description of Tipping the Velvet on the 1001 Must Read Before You Die Books list, I knew I had to read it. Cross-dressing lesbians, kept women, music hall singers, renter "boys" - I mean, what's not to like?

First and foremost, this is a book about lesbians (my first!) and written by one at
Aug 15, 2010 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not anyone really, but I won't stop you from reading it either.
Recommended to Amanda by: From Coventry's "take my books" party

I knew that's all you wanted to hear about. I'm going to go on with my review, but you're welcome to stop reading now that you know the juicy stuff. And no, I will not go on to describe, in dripping detail, any of the aforementioned LESBIAN SEX SCENES. For shame, I know.

So anyway, a while back, my friend Coventry had piles and piles of books she was giving away and this was one of them. Seeing that it was written by Sarah Waters, I nabbed it immediately and placed upon my sh
Mar 15, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m a straight white male living in the conservative heartland of America who likes reading about the Civil War and drinking cheap white wine (sometimes with ice cubes in the glass). Thus, when Sarah Waters sits down to write her novels, I am likely not the intended audience for which she spins her yarns. Possibly, I am the furthest thing from it.

Nevertheless, I stumbled upon her most recent book, The Paying Guests, at the end of 2014, when it began appearing on all the year-end ten-best lists.
Stacia (the 2010 club)
Nov 06, 2012 Stacia (the 2010 club) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stacia (the 2010 club) by: Buddy read with Regina
"I feel like I've been repeating other people's speeches all my life. Now, when I want to make a speech, I hardly know how."
"If you are fretting over how to tell me you are leaving-"
"I am fretting," I said, "over how to tell you how I love you; over how to say that you are the world to me."

3.5 stars. This was my first foray into the writing of Sarah Waters. According to my friends, I have been missing out on some great lit. Now I'm no longer out of the loop!

Tipping the Velvet follows a young
Apr 27, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It appears that currently the most common criticism of this book on goodreads is that it seems formulaic. Perhaps I am behind the times, but when did eloquent lesbian coming of age stories set in England 200 years ago become so commonplace as to even HAVE a formula?

Ultimately this is a love story embedded in a fluid tale of heart-pounding and heart-breaking moments over the course of Nan's life. Either the girl gets the girl/boy in the end, or the girl doesn't...predicting the ending with a fift
Nov 14, 2015 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bonnie by: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die
Interested in more of my reviews? Visit my blog!

4.5 stars
Sarah Water’s debut novel set in 1890s London is a delightfully shocking tale of exploring the boundaries of gender roles in the Victorian era. It's about finding out who you really are and being comfortable in your own skin and about overcoming heartache and finding love again.

The Storyline
’And was there at her side a slender, white-faced, unremarkable-looking girl, with the sleeves of her dress rolled up to her elbows, and a lock of lank
A friend once told me she doesn't like historical lesfic because the sex is so underwhelming and I agree. Until I read this book. ;) An amazon reviewer calls it 'Victorian porn'--sounds like an oxymoron, doesnt it? Unabashed eroticism in a period of prudishness and high morality. In the context of modern lesfic, this book isn't much more erotic than our usual diet of lesfic romances. But perhaps the idea of same sex relationships, and some of the more risque situations and uhm...maneuvers made r ...more
Emily  O
When I first picked up this novel, I was expecting an exciting romp through Victorian England, complete with lesbians, a little sex, and lots of adventure. I wasn't exactly looking for a piece of classic literature. On that account, this book succeeded marvelously.

Tipping the Velvet is the story of young Nancy Astley, who grew up cooking oysters at her parents shop and occasionally visiting the nearby theater/dance hall. There she meets Kitty Butler, a "masher," or male impersonator, with whom s
I wish there were more books like this story out there. Stories about groups of people in past time periods that have previously not been written about are very interesting. We seem to have an uncountable number of books about rich debutantes and heiresses during the Victorian era but not many about working class oyster girls, performers and lesbians. And I am on the record saying I want more books about oyster girls, performers and lesbians -- of any era.

Tipping the Velvet can be generically d
Jul 22, 2007 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was first made aware of this book by the BBC miniseries, which played on BBC America last year. My wife and I liked it, and I got my wife the novel for her birthday, and ever since Sept. she has been bugging me to read the novel. With the DVD coming out, I decided to finally read it. Wow. Lemme say that again: Wow.

First of all, Sarah Waters is an amazing writer that from now on will forever remain on the Favorites list at my house. Tipping the Velvet is a great debut novel by a great writer, a
Sarah Sammis
Jun 08, 2007 Sarah Sammis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: released
I was unimpressed with the book. Sarah Waters appears to be a one note writer. Sure, she changes the setting and the time period but her cardboard cutout characters are the same. There is always the naive young woman who falls for the more worldly but jaded woman and learns of the forbidden love only to scare her new soul mate straight! There you go, that's the twist to every one of Waters's books that I've read so you might as well save yourself the time and read something better.

Also in Tippin
Corbin Dodge
Apr 27, 2008 Corbin Dodge rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Gothic Victorian Lesbian genre does exist! In fact, there could not be a more perfect description of Sarah Waters' novels. Part Dickinsonian, part erotica, part mystery, her characters in 'Tipping the Velvet' explore the sexually mischievious underworld of London in the late 1800's. That being said, I'm still quite critical of this book.

The novel was slow to pick-up until about 10 pages before book 2. Before that I was having to convince myself that hanging in there was going to be worth the
Mar 17, 2010 Rainbow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I read and loved Fingersmith. But Tipping the Velvet is way, way different. It's basically a really vivid -- ultimately romantic -- coming-out story about a girl in Victorian England. Sarah Waters is an incredible writer and even better storyteller.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Here is me reading this book:

Part 1: Yes!
Part 2: Whaaaa?
Part 3: Um, okay.

Be warned: there be spoilers below. This book has a very clear and traditional structure, so once you recognize its contours there aren't many surprises, but my review gives away a lot.

Tipping the Velvet seems to have a reputation as some kind of lesbian erotica. (That got your attention, didn't it?) The cover features a pair of strippers*, the blurb praises the book as "erotic," and even the title, as it turns out, is a Vi
else fine
My coworker dubbed this "Victorian Dildos for Dummies" and now it's all I can think of when I look at the cover.

Nice details and lovely descriptions provide a slightly hollow framework for the book's bland protagonist as she explores the various lesbian subcultures of Victorian London. Given the book's sensational characteristics - cross dressing stage performers! jaded lesbian orgies! socialists! male prostitutes! - it's surprisingly boring. I admired the research but couldn't give a shit abou
Nov 02, 2014 BrokenTune rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
4.5* really, but not quite 5*

"And last of all I had a fondness – you might say, a kind of passion – for the music hall; and more particularly for music-hall songs and the singing of them. If you have visited Whitstable you will know that this was a rather inconvenient passion, for the town has neither music hall nor theatre – only a solitary lamp-post before the Duke of Cumberland Hotel, where minstrel troupes occasionally sing, and the Punch-and-Judy man, in August, sets his booth."

Delicious, s
Don't be put off because you don't like Victorian literature. If you're like me, and you enjoy lesbian fiction, and you enjoy blunt, realistic depictions of sex and relationships, you'll like this book. Waters has a fabulous narrative style and she plays with sex and gender in this book in a fabulous way. Unlike many lesbian novels, it has a satisfying ending, and though it's long, the length is necessary to negotiate the differing approaches she presents to lesbianism, sex, and relationships. R ...more
helen the bookowl
This book was a pleasant surprise to me because it was so different from what I normally read. I knew that Sarah Waters publishes a lot of LGTB literature, and I had heard many amazing things about this specific book, so I eventually decided to pick it up.
I was in love with the beginning. Nancy and her family and their life of oysters were adorable. Even though Nancy herself was a bit bored with her life, I loved reading about it, and I loved how the story progressed with the beautiful introduc
Oct 19, 2015 Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, lgbtq
I am going to start by saying that I am still not over the fact that this is Sarah Waters’ debut novel. Tipping the Velvet is a human being’s debut novel. I am sorry, but every single time I consider this fact I just feel like laughing because Tipping the Velvet, this majestically well written novel, is someone’s debut. I mean, how is it even possible? I really do not know what to say.

Sarah Waters is, in my humble opinion, an absolute genius. Her writing style is the perfect lead in the tango th
Her Royal Orangeness
Set in Victorian England, “Tipping the Velvet” is about the sexual awakening of Nancy Astley/Nan King. The book follows her journey from an innocent young woman falling in love with a cross-dressing music hall performer, to her escapades as a transvestite prostitute, to her experience as an s&m slave of a wealthy woman.

Two things bothered me greatly about “Tipping the Velvet.” One, women are often only attracted to other women if they are dressed as men, and men are only attracted to other
Jan 07, 2010 El rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If Charles Dickens were a woman writing today I have a feeling he would be Sarah Waters.

Late 19th century England, following the life of Nancy, a small-town young woman in the oyster business with her family. She falls for a male impersonator, Kitty Butler, and ultimately runs off to join Kitty on the stage. From there it's a series of women loves and infatuations. There's some hot, lesbian lovin' here - and yes, I do believe Dickens would make a great lesbian writer today.

I'm not sure what I in
Wendy Darling
Absorbing and complex. I loved the descriptions of Nan's early life as an "oyster girl" and how she gradually discovers who she is and how she fits into her Victorian world.
I'm pretty sure I've never read a story with so much trembling, and that is saying a lot given my love of nineteenth-century novels. Good grief. There was trembling from fear, from sexual anticipation, from cold, from sadness. Smell some bacon? Tremble. See an old lover? Tremble. Thinking of dipping fingers into a warm vulva? Tremble. Notice some lint on one's jacket? Tremble. Expecting rain tomorrow? You know the drill. Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but it was too much and over the top even for a ...more
Nancy Oakes
I LOVED this book, and I always recommend it when someone is looking for a good read.

The action happens in the 1890s, beginning in a seaside town in Kent. The main character is Nancy Astley, who helps out the family oyster bar business . She is a fan of music hall theater, and on one trip sees Kitty Butler, a singer who impersonates men as part of her act, and finds herself falling for her. One thing leads to another, and she becomes Kitty's dresser and off to London they go. In just a seven-ye
When, last month, I selected this book from the collection of Sarah Waters novels upon my bookcase I was seriously struggling with my focus, concentration and motivation; I hoped, but I certainly did not expect (given my horridly-frustrating state of my mind), that this book might remedy me. From my perspective, 'Tipping the Velvet' was an absolute delight to read because it did not make any demands of me - Sarah Waters' debut novel applied a generous dollop of salve to my spirit which very much ...more
Mar 30, 2008 Cherie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
From the publisher: This delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster-girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitty Butler. When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on "Grease-Paint Avenue", Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and soon after, dons trousers and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her he ...more
Dec 05, 2008 Cintamani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Burlesque lovers everywhere
Recommended to Cintamani by: Bookstore worker in the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, NY
What a sumptuous era! Makes me want to be in music halls...

Lots of red velvet, grime, squalor and lust. Perfect. I love when Nancy's smoking on the little balcony off her room, just thinking, and looking over London. Profound. The characters are fabulous, and the Victorian backdrop is breathtaking, so even though it's about a love affair between to girls, I would recommend this to anyone who loves period stories and good writing!
My first Sarah Waters book, but definitely not the last. I told myself that I had to read more LGBTQ books, and I was pretty excited with this one since I came across a lot of good reviews about it online. This is my first lesbian novel, though I’m by no means new to the genre. I’ve already read tons of manga and watched some anime before.

I’m pleasantly surprised with the narration—I think Waters has effectively managed to evoke the Victorian feeling with her prose alone. I wasn’t really very m
MSJ (Sarah)
Sarah Waters has stated in an interview that Tipping the Velvet is her favorite book she has written and it also holds a special place in my literary imagination. This was Water's debut novel originally published in 1998. I discovered her books back at that time when I used to live down the block from the Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago. This past year I've been rereading her three early Victorian books. Despite popular opinion I actually feel that this is a much stronger book than ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Patience & Sarah
  • Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943
  • Life Mask
  • Stone Butch Blues
  • Valencia
  • The World Unseen
  • Desert of the Heart
  • Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America
  • Curious Wine
  • The Passion
  • The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader
  • The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
  • Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme
  • Afterimage
  • Silhouette of a Sparrow
  • S/He
  • Steam-Powered:  Lesbian Steampunk Stories
  • Pages for You
Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel.
More about Sarah Waters...

Share This Book

“Being in love, you know... it's not like having a canary, in a cage. When you lose one sweetheart, you can't just go out and get another to replace her.” 45 likes
“When I see her,” I said, “it’s like - I don’t know what it’s like. It’s like I never saw anything at all before. It’s like I am filling up, like a wine-glass when it’s filled with wine. I watch the acts before her and they are like nothing - they’re like dust. Then she walks on the stage and - she is so pretty; and her suit is so nice; and her voice is so sweet… She makes me want to smile and weep, at once. She makes me sore, here.” I placed a hand upon my chest, upon the breast-bone. “I never saw a girl like her before. I never knew that there were girls like her…” My voice became a trembling whisper then, and I found that I could say no more. There was another silence. I opened my eyes and looked at Alice - and knew at once that I shouldn’t have spoken; that I should have been as dumb and as cunning with her as with the rest of them. There was a look on her face - it was not ambiguous at all now - a look of mingled shock, and nervousness, and embarrassment or shame. I had said too much. I felt as if my admiration for Kitty Butler had lit a beacon inside me, and opening my unguarded mouth had sent a shaft of light into the darkened room, illuminating all. I had said too much - but it was that, or say nothing.” 34 likes
More quotes…